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* Cyclone expected to hit southern state's capital, nearby
* Rainfall lashes coastal areas, winds uproot trees
* Several flights at Chennai airport delayed or cancelled
CHENNAI, India, Dec 12 Authorities in India
evacuated tens of thousands of people from low-lying areas and
closed schools and colleges on Monday, as a cyclone barreled
towards the southeastern coast.
Cyclone Vardah is moving westwards over the Bay of Bengal
and is expected to hit Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil
Nadu state, as well as neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in the next
few hours, said the Indian Meteorological Department, describing
it as a "very severe storm".
Rain began battering the densely populated coast ahead of
the storm's landfall, while fierce winds uprooted trees and
electricity pylons. Flights at Chennai airport were delayed or
Vardah is forecast to weaken gradually as it moves west but
the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said wind
speeds had picked up to around 140 kmph (87 mph), with heavy
rain expected when the storm reaches land.
A "storm surge" will be about one metre (three feet) high.
More than 23,000 people in Tamil Nadu have been moved to
relief centres, with plans for tens of thousands more to be
evacuated, a senior state official, K. Satyagopal, told Reuters.
More than 10,000 people from two districts in Andhra Pradesh
have also been moved, its disaster management commissioner, M.V.
Seshagiri Babu, said.
The NDMA warned fishermen not to venture to sea for the next
36 hours, and urged residents to stay in safe places.
Navy ships and aircraft, as well as 30 diving teams, were on
standby to help move people and deliver aid if needed, a navy
India's cyclone season usually runs from April to December,
with storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens
of thousands of people and widespread damage to crops and
Wind speeds topped 300 km per hour (186 mph) in an Indian
"super-cyclone" that killed 10,000 people in 1999, while a
cyclone packing speeds of more than 200 kph (124 mph) lashed the
east coast in 2013.
(Reporting by Jatindra Dash and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by
Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)